Exploring Arizona:  Adventurous sisters share Grand Canyon State history

Midge LeMay, left, and Sue Poirier enjoy the view on a gusty day in Box Canyon in late February.

Gypsy has a rule when you travel with her. If you see something you like, you stop. Back up if necessary. Get out and enjoy or just sit in the car and gaze — deer, canyons, a pile of fluffy clouds.

You’re not on a schedule when you’re with Gypsy. You see more that way.

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“Whoa, aren’t you guys beautiful!” Sue Poirier says from behind the wheel of Gypsy, a 2006 Honda CRV she shares with sister Marie “Midge” LeMay. She’s spotted a group of three horses near Madera Canyon.

“Gypsy’s gotta stop!” she says — just like they did a few years ago when they traveled all 50 states on what they call their Grand Adventure.

Exploring Arizona: Adventurous sisters share Grand Canyon State history

Horses! It’s enough to get Gypsy to stop. The sisters drink in the simple joys of Arizona.

Something tugged at them when they reached Arizona. After a week — and without knowing a soul — they knew they weren’t leaving.

Suddenly, the two widows from New England were permanent residents of the Southwest. And in no time, they knew a lot more about their adopted state than many who’d lived here for a lifetime.

Their first book, “One Mile at a Time,” was self-published and a big hit. It shared the highlights and challenges of the journey in a conversational, friendly tone backed up by facts and tidbits about organizing the trip itself and the places they saw. It was a journal of sorts for family and friends, but it reached far beyond that.

A penchant for research and a curiosity that’s never satisfied quickly put them on the road in their adopted state. Soon, they’d churned out a second book — “A Gypsy In Our Souls: Exploring Arizona.”

Equally as intriguing, the book surpasses many guidebooks on one of the most diverse states in the union. It’s a must-read for travelers or for those who want a vicarious adventure.

The books turned Midge and Sue into local celebrities with speaking engagements and radio appearances out of Tucson. One HOA had them come speak for an hour but the crowd kept them more than twice that.

“They wouldn’t let us go,” Midge says. “They asked question after question after question. They were great.”  

The fun isn’t just in the adventure, it’s how they tell the stories, playing off each other, remembering the wonderful details that make a good trip a great one, and doling out friendly advice on where to eat and what to see.

Would there be a third book? They’d always said they’d consider if it they had a good reason. Eventually, they found it.

A journey revisited

“Connecting Dots: A Journey of Discovery” goes where the other two books didn’t.

Published in February, the book revisits their 50-state tour but goes much deeper, doing just what the title says — connecting the dots between people, places and events that shaped and defined the nation and the people who call it home.

They put you on the Underground Railway with Harriet Tubman; take you to the edge of Niagara Falls; and give you a thorough history of the Civilian Conservation Corps and its work during the Depression — there’s even a statue honoring the workers. They also manage to connect Buffalo Bill Cody to Arizona in a fascinating chapter mixing entertainment, mining and pre-statehood history.

The book is a testimony to not just wanting to see things, but wanting to know how they came into being, who was behind them and why events played out as they did.

“Connecting Dots” is part history book, part personal insight and a whole lot of “aha!” as you relive events and rediscover notable figures. It draws on the sisters’ love of learning and storytelling.

Back at home

But Midge and Sue don’t have to travel cross-country to find adventure anymore.

A recent trip through Box Canyon east of Green Valley — they guessed it was their 20th time through — brought new delights they shared with a passenger. That’s not unusual — they often brings friends along on their adventures.  

They know Box Canyon can be fickle depending on the weather, and give it due respect. But this was a perfect day.

Exploring Arizona: Adventurous sisters share Grand Canyon State history

A narrow road slips through Box Canyon, from Green Valley to Highway 83.

They stopped at an ice-cold waterfall that trickled down a wall of rock, kept mental tabs on a private mine operation, and ran into an Arizona Game & Fish crew monitoring black-tailed prairie dogs near Empire Ranch.

They saw soaring hawks engaged in a mating ritual, a herd of deer and stopped to take in the simple beauty of a dead tree bent into the shape of an  animal.

“It’s so cute!” Midge says.

And they did one of their favorite things — talk to fellow travelers.

They drove up alongside a couple at the turnoff to Greaterville and swapped tips about getting over ruts, tire pressure and the best cars for ground clearance on backroads. They talked about Helvetia and Kentucky Camp before wishing them a great day as they pulled away a few minutes later.

“We do this everywhere,” Midge says. “It’s so much fun.”

They venture out at least three times a week and one of those is always to a new place. They visit museum, murals, oddities, anything that catches their fancy. They do plenty of research ahead of time and ask a lot of questions when they get there. Their desire to learn is genuine, and they’re willing to share once they have their arms wrapped around a place.

Does that mean a fourth book is in the offing? Could be, they said, but insist that if it happens it’ll be their last. But they admit Arizona keeps throwing new adventures at them.

“We keep discovering things,” Midge says. “Then we go hear a talk and learn more. Then we go.”

She’s quickly followed by Sue, who’s just spotted an incredible view of Green Valley near an abandoned Titan missile site outside Madera Canyon.

She walks toward it, arms open wide.

“Isn’t this beautiful!”

Dan Shearer | 520-547-9770